Engine of the Club: Shaft or Head? Golf Information

There's a saying in golf that the shaft is “the engine of the club.” But what exactly does that mean? And is it true, or does the clubhead actually drive the club?

First of all, the metaphor refers to the shaft supplying power, just like a car's engine. Power and speed are created by the bending and unbending of the shaft, also called “loading” and “unloading.” Both occur on the downswing. The shaft is loaded, bending away from the ball, as the hands move downward. Unloading occurs as the hands roll over (release) through impact, with the shaft whipping from a bent-backward to a bent-forward angle.

So yes, it's accurate to compare the shaft, not the head, to a car engine.

Of course, the head does play a role in delivering power to the ball. A clubhead's weight, materials and design affect shot distance.

But if a clubhead is paired with the wrong shaft for your swing, power (and accuracy) can be lost. To learn more about shafts and how they can impact your game, follow these links:

Benefits of Selecting the Right Shaft

Shafts: Steel or Graphite?

Getting the Shaft: Torque should Match Swing Speed

Engine of the Club – Shaft or Head?

Engine of the Club – Shaft or Head?

Equipment plays a big role in the game of golf. Having the right equipment is never going to be more important than having a great swing, but you can make progress with your game simply by improving your gear. More than just spending a lot of money, having the right clubs is about finding equipment that matches up with your personal strengths and weaknesses. You shouldn't bother looking for the 'best' clubs on the market, because they don't exist. Different clubs will work differently for various players, so your job is to find the ones which work best for you.

As you seek out the right equipment to put in your bag, you will notice that there are two main pieces of the puzzle with each club you evaluate – the shaft, and the club head. Which of these is more important? Which is the 'engine' that drives the club? In this article, we are going to address this question. Educating yourself on how equipment works and what you should pay attention to when shopping will allow you to pick out the right sticks in the end.

Before going any further, we should make an obvious point – both club shafts and club heads are important. You need to find a club – or have one assembled – that features a shaft which works for your swing, and a head that offers the performance you need. If either half of the equation is coming up short, the club as a whole is never going to meet your expectations. There are no shortcuts available in golf, and that is even true when picking out equipment. Take the time to find the right shaft, and the right club head, and you will wind up with a club that moves your game in the right direction.

Also, we want to stress that you shouldn't feel the need to spend incredible sums of money in an attempt to buy a better game. Yes, quality equipment can help you play better golf, but quality clubs can be found at a variety of price points. You may be able to purchase used equipment to save money, or you might choose to buy clubs from a slightly lesser brand name to avoid the top-dollar prices of the major companies. There is nothing wrong with purchasing high-end clubs if you have the budget to do so, but don't think that making such purchases is required in order to play good golf.

All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

The Shaft Drives Performance

The Shaft Drives Performance

We are going to answer the question from the title of this article right here and now – it is the shaft of the club that serves as the 'engine' during the swing. While most golfers pay more attention to the club head when shopping, it is really the shaft that takes center stage while you are on the course. With the right shaft in your clubs – especially your driver – you can enjoy performance that simply wouldn't be possible otherwise. On the other side of the coin, you can create serious problems for yourself when using the wrong shaft. It is entirely possible to ruin your golf game with the use of the wrong shafts, even if the mechanics of your swing are just fine. If you are only going to focus on one piece of the equipment puzzle, move shafts to the top of your list.

So, how can the shaft that you use affect the results you see out on the course? Let's take a look –

  • Controlling launch angle. This is common point of misconception, so we may as well start here. When trying to find the perfect launch angle for your shots, you will want to think about the shaft that you are using more than the loft of the club head. Amateur players tend to get confused on this point when thinking about the driver. If you are launching your driver too high, or too low, you may first think to blame the loft of the club. In reality, the loft only has a limited effect on launch angle. Most important are the dynamics of the shaft. If the shaft you are using is too stiff for your swing, for example, you'll likely launch the ball lower than desired. Launch angle is a major factor in determining how far you will hit your drives in the end, so this is a not a point you can afford to overlook. If you don't like your launch angle off the tee at the moment, it is likely that your shaft is to blame.
  • Delivering speed to the ball. It is the job of the shaft to translate the speed you are producing with your swing into actual force at the moment of impact. Unfortunately, using the wrong shaft can get in the way of this transfer, meaning much of your power will be lost between your hands and the club head. This problem can affect players on both sides of the spectrum – those using a shaft which is too soft, and those using a shaft which is too stiff. A shaft that is not capable of keeping up with your swing will flex too much on the way down, and it won't recover before impact arrives. On the other hand, a shaft which is too stiff for your swing is not going to flex enough, and it won't allow you to load and unload the club properly. It is essential to find the 'sweet spot' with regard to shaft flex if you are going to get maximum distance out of your swing speed.
  • Remember to watch your weight. It is not only the flex of the club shaft that matters, but also the weight. You can pick club shafts in a variety of weights, and even a relatively minor change can have an impact on your game. Of course, a lighter shaft is going to translate to more speed, so it is popular to move in that direction. However, using a particularly light club can make it hard to 'feel' your swing, so consistency and accuracy may be impacted. Finding a balance of weight and feel is another important step in this process.

In the end, you are looking for the shaft which delivers 'just right' performance. You don't want to wind up on the extreme end of anything, as that is likely to lead to problems in other areas. The shaft you choose should be based completely on the dynamics of your swing and the performance characteristics you are looking for in a club. It doesn't matter what shafts other golfers happen to be using, as that has no bearing whatsoever on your game. Find the shafts that are going to compliment your skills nicely and you should see an improvement in your performance.

Club Head Still Matters

Club Head Still Matters

We've pretty well established that it is the club shaft which should be considered the engine of your clubs. The shaft is going to determine many of the playing characteristics of the club, and it is the element which needs to be most-closely matched to your abilities. Without the right club shaft, you simply aren't going to get far in this game.

With all of that said, the club head still matters, of course. Different club heads provide different types of performance, as well as different appearances, so you'll need to find the one that suits you best. At this point, we need to break up the discussion into two parts – drivers (and fairway woods), and irons. Generally speaking, the characteristics of the club heads you use in your iron set will be far more important than those of your driver. Let's take a look at two quick lists, the first highlighting what a driver club head will bring to the table.

  • Feel at impact. The feel of the ball coming off the club is one of the most important characteristics of a driver. This is not something you can measure, but rather you just need to base it off your own instincts. You should like the way the ball feels coming off of the club, and that feeling should give you confidence. If the feel that a particular driver head offers doesn't feel right to you, you'll never have the proper amount of belief in that club.
  • Stability through the hitting area. Depending on the weighting of the club head, some drivers offer better stability at the point of contact than others. This will be mostly noticed when you miss-hit a shot slightly. When you hit the ball out near the toe, or in off the heel, how does the club head perform? Does it hold steady, or does it want to twist in your hands? Every golfer miss-hits the ball from time to time, so you want to have a driver that is going to work with you on those poor swings.
  • Visual appeal. Modern driver heads are big – really big. Most of the clubs you will find on the market today are 460cc, meaning they occupy a serious amount of space behind the ball at address. You can't help but notice the presence of the club head when you look down at address, so you might as well like what you are seeing. Pick out a driver which features a head that looks good to you and will inspire confidence on each swing.

As mentioned above, the club heads on your irons are even more important than the head you choose for your driver. Let's now take a look at what you should be thinking about when picking club heads for your iron set.

  • Blades or cavity backs? This is the big question when shopping for irons. Blades are thin-headed irons that are meant for experienced, accomplished players. These kinds of clubs provide great feel at the moment of impact – but only when you hit them on the sweet spot. If miss-hit, even just slightly, you will not get a great feeling through your hands, and your shot will likely miss its mark. On the other hand, cavity back irons are meant for players who need a little bit of help. These kinds of clubs have larger heads, and most of the weight of the club head is distributed around the outside to improve forgiveness. It is important to be honest with yourself when picking out irons in order to get a set which is a good match for your skills and your needs. If you aren't sure, try out clubs from both categories to see which you like best.
  • Height of trajectory. Yes, the shaft that you use does have a lot to do with the height of your shots, but when hitting irons, the club head has something to say on the matter as well. Club heads with a majority of their weight down in the sole are naturally going to launch the ball higher into the sky. This may or may not be a good thing. Players who need help hitting the ball higher will appreciate this design, while those who already hit the ball high will just find it frustrating. Again, this is a point which comes down to your own personal needs and preferences.
  • Again, the look. Just as was the case with your driver, you also need to like the look of your set of irons. Since your irons are smaller, it will likely be easier to find a set that suits your eye. Often, the deciding factor is the size and appearance of the top line. Some players like to look down at a thin top line, while others like a thick, bulky appearance. Take a look at a variety of the irons on the market to see what your options are, and decide for yourself what looks best to you.

In the end, it is a blend of performance and appearance that will lead you to the right club heads for your set. You should trust measurements you get from equipment like a launch monitor to help guide your search, but you should also value your own feel and intuition. Take everything into account and you may be able to come away with a set of clubs that is able to help you perform at the highest possible level on the links.